Contested Terrains


Asebe Regassa Debelo
Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies, Bayreuth, Germany

Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa (Volume 13, No.5, 2011)
ISSN: 1520-5509. Clarion University of Pennsylvania, Clarion, Pennsylvania


In Ethiopia, development models have been borrowed from different countries since the mid 19th century. Despite their difference in discourses over political and economic ideologies, successive regimes in the country shared similarities in their relationship with the society. The Ethiopian state has been perceived as predatory state for its exploitative nature and because of its reliance on the poor in extracting revenue. In 1991, Ethiopia experienced a new political order that ostensibly promised the society with rights of self-government, decentralization of power and local development through
empowerment of local institutions. Nevertheless, the top-down and centrist approach in the planning and management of development schemes have been the features of the current regime. Taking the case of Nech Sar national park as a case study, this paper argues that the official narratives of development and conservation contradict local conceptions and ultimately fail to ensure both conservation and development missions it intends to achieve. Rather, state intervention threatens the livelihood of local communities and sustainability of biodiversity in the park.
Keywords: Development, Conservation, Local communities, Conceptions of nature
In Ethiopian history, the territories in the southern part of the country have been represented as a natural space ‘unspoiled’ by human activities where as the people are portrayed as ‘close to nature’. In a close investigation of the north-south dichotomies in Ethiopia, an analogy can be drawn with Europeans’ perception of Africa during the colonial conquest. In other words, the north has been represented as ‘historical’ while the south is viewed as ‘natural’ or ‘wilderness’. David Turton (2009) argues that the Ethiopian state used the ‘wilderness’ notion in peripheral south as a mechanism of state building, control of the people and territories, and for building legitimacy through so called development and conservation schemes. Following the incorporation of the south into the Ethiopian empire in the late
19th century through military conquest, the state-society relationship has been paternalistic in which the state is perceived as predatory because of its policies of suppression and exploitation.

A new political landscape was introduced in 1991 following the institutionalization of ethnic federalism and its policy instruments of decentralization, self-government and local autonomy (Clapham 2002). Ostensibly, the new political order was thought to redress past injustices and inequalities. In principle, ethnic federalism grants ethnic based self-government to different ethnic groups and presumably ensures decentralization of power as vehicle of local development. According to Mohammed Salih and John Markakis (1998), the Ethiopian experiment of ethnic federalism envisions development
harnessing ethnicity as a vehicle. They contend that; Decentralization in Ethiopia is not seen merely as device for the satisfaction of ethnic political demands, but also as the path leading to democratization through devolution of decision making in a manner that enables more people to influence the political process. Furthermore, since decentralization and democratization are regarded as requisite to development, the empowerment of ethnicity is intended to harness ethnicity to the purposes of
development (Mohammed and Markakis, 1998, p. 8, emphasis added).
Although institutionalization of ethnic federalism is supposed to ensure self-government of the constituent nations and nationalities in Ethiopia, different critiques have been outlined by scholars, particularly regarding its practical implementation. For instance, as Dereje (2006) contends in his study of the Gambela case, despite a promising start (formal and symbolic empowerment) ‘the political blessing’ has turned out to be a curse for the majority of ordinary men and women who experienced the federal experiment as escalation of conflict. The message implicated in the argument indicates persistence of disparities between the national discourse of the experiment and its actual realities at local levels.
Likewise, based on his fieldwork analysis among the Siltie in South Ethiopia, Zerihun (2004) contends the presence of hierarchical structures in state-peasant relationship in development programs despite the rhetoric of participatory development advanced by the government. He further argues that the concept, “development”, itself is perceived and being practiced by elites and ethnic entrepreneurs as a technocratic process to be administered and planned by the state rather than negotiated with, and contested by, the peasants (Zerihun, 2004). In line with this concern, Mohammed and
Markakis critically point out that it is crucially important to note that the success of this unfinished altruistic project depends on “whether the formal i.e. constitutional provisions of decentralization and democratization are realized in practice” (1998, p.8).
More specifically, the Ethiopian experiment of ethnic federalism and its policy instruments of decentralization and selfgovernment failed to move beyond rhetoric. Centralized and top-down administrative systems are still in place while local communities’ participation in decision making processes is far from practical. In this article, the national discourse of ethnic federalism that ostensibly promotes decentralized governance and local development through empowerment of
local administrative units will be analyzed by taking the management of Nech Sar National Park as a case study. By so doing, it probes whether the envisioned and highly applauded ethnic federalism has been translated into practice.
Unlike in other African states where national parks and game reserves were established following the commencement of colonial conquest in the late 19th century, Ethiopia entered into international environmental politics (with reference to Protected Areas) in 1960s (Abiyot, 2009). The country began collaborating with international institutions such as UNESCO in early 1960s as a step towards adopting western conservation practices. The first partnership was established when a team of Ethiopian delegation participated in a conference organized by UNESCO in 1962 in Paris that deliberated
on “Economic Development and Conservation of Natural Resources: Flora and Fauna”. The Ethiopian team requested UNESCO Director-General to provide the country with necessary support for the survey of potential areas to be reserved as national parks. To this end, UNESCO sent a team that surveyed and recommended three areas: Semein Mountain, Awash and Omo Valleys in 1965. Later on, a British Biologist added Nech-Sar to be established as national park in 1967 that came into effect in 1974 as game reserve (Abiyot, 2009; Tewasen, 2003). It was this partnership that later enabled Ethiopia to adopt the ‘conventional’ or classical conservation approach as implemented elsewhere in colonial Africa. 51
The major initiative for the establishment of the park was “for preservation of the endemic Swayne’s Hartebeest and for its scenic beauty” (Dessalegn, 2004) but later because of its richness in biodiversity, other objectives were included. The park is endowed with over 800 species of higher plants, 91 species of Mammals, 351 species of birds, and others such as insects. The park features a great diversity of animal population with the dominant ones including Burchell’s Zebra, Grant’s gazelle, the endemic Swayne’s hartebeest, Nile crocodile in Lake Chamo, Lesser Kudu, lion, wild dog and other animals (APF Annual Report, 2007). Moreover, the landscape that constitutes underground water forests and the ‘Forty
Springs’ add to its scenic beauty. As a result, the park was established with the aim of preserving immense natural resources and generating economic benefits from tourism for the country (Dessalegn, 2004; APF Annual Report, 2007).
Before the establishment of the park, the territory was used by the Guji Oromo agro-pastoral community as a wet season grazing land whereas the fertile eastern escarpment has been extensively utilized by both the Koore and Guji communities for agriculture (Tadesse, 2004; Getachew, 2007). Before the state intervention through conservation program, the Guji lived with the wildlife in mutually complementary manner. However, adopting the western approach that presumes wildlife and people as incompatible mixes, the park management has taken fierce measures against local communities throughout the three regimes. The local Guji and Koore communities were evicted from the park in two phases. The first was in 1982 under the military regime while the second was in 2004/5 under the EPRDF (Ethiopian
Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front) that is on power since 1991. Following the eviction of the local people from the park, wildlife, particularly the herbivorous, were reported to have migrated with the people. Perhaps, this experience is against the ‘conventional’ conservationist thought that presumes local people as threats to wildlife in and around protected areas. This scenario raises a fundamental question on what implicit relationships exist between the people and the animals. Thus, this paper attempts to investigate different conceptions of nature and the implications that such disparities invoke on conservation practices in and around Nech Sar national park. It also probes into human-wildlife 52
relations in and around the park. As points of departure, this paper raises questions which include: How do the Guji conceptualize/perceive their environment? What are the basis of relationship between human and non-human ‘worlds’ in Guji’s cosmological scheme? What approaches has been followed by the park administration in Nech Sar national park?
What conservation implication does the different conception of nature entail? With a total size of 514 km2 (official figure during its establishment), the park adjoins Arba Minch town in the west,
Amaro Mountains in the East, Lakes Abaya and Chamo in the north and south respectively. In fact, parts of the two lakes are included into the park territory in 1990s. It should be noted that following change in administrative systems at national levels, the park was also reported to have undergone changes in size. Local communities and some academic sources indicate that the official figure is far less than the actual park size (Tadesse, 2004). It is rather estimated to be over 1000km2 . In terms of interaction with human population, in the west Arba Minch town dwellers and in the east Guji and Koore communities heavily rely on resources in the park for different livelihood purposes. While urban dwellers
exploit forest resources for charcoal, firewood, timber, and construction materials, the Koore extensively use the eastern border of the park (sometimes inside the park territory) for agriculture. Similarly, the Guji agro-pastoral communities graze their cattle in and around the park while cultivating crops such as maize, coffee, banana, sweet potato and avocado in a contested lowland area that adjoins the park and the Koore people. It has been claimed that the whole territory now designated as national park was Guji’s dry season grazing land since 16th century (Getachew, 2007).
From its establishment till the downfall of the military regime, the park management was typically state-centered, topdown, exclusionary and coercive against local people. In a similar approach to the classical protectionist conservation approach, it used ‘fences and fines’ and considered local people as hostile to nature, particularly to the wildlife. Oral narratives of the communities (particularly Guji’s and Koore’s) indicate that the park management strictly controlled any access to the park by establishing police stations and taking coercive measures against the people who are found utilizing resources in and around the park territories. For instance, at present if a person is caught hunting or grazing his cattle in
the park, he would be jailed for six months and would pay fifty Ethiopian Birr (about three dollars) per head of cattle. In short, customary rights were criminalized whereas indigenous knowledge of resource management was denigrated. To make the matter worse, the military regime forcefully evicted over 2000 Koore and Guji communities in 1982 (Dessalegn, 2004). During the eviction, houses, crops, and properties were burnt to ashes. Many cattle died in shortage of water and pasture en-route to new settlement areas. Since the state did not prepare any resettlement areas for the displaced people, they were prompted to compete over resources with other neighboring communities such as the Konso
and Burji. This led to protracted inter-ethnic conflict that further destabilized the region and impoverished the people.
Following the regime change in 1991 and the subsequent legal and political vacuum created for a while, both communities returned to their previous settlement areas. But the people’s attitude towards the park and their relationship with the wildlife was changed to hostility. Informants from both communities recall memories of how people reacted against wildlife and resources of the park. Some further pointed out that “people began to associate the animals with the state because it was for those animals that the state evicted the people” (informant, Shanxara Halake, May 2011). As a result, both groups began massive killing of animals for food and commerce. Moreover, the Guji started grazing their cattle far inside the centre of the park while hundreds of Koore community moved down to the Sermale basin for
agricultural activities. On the western side where it adjoins Arba Minch town, massive destruction of forests for timber, charcoal, firewood, and construction materials were reported to have been taken place (APF Annual Report, 2007). Informants from Arba Minch town bitterly recall that the period was a time when people destroyed resources as if it were enemy’s property. Although some sorts of administrative decentralization have been put in place in post 1991 period (the park was administered by SNNPR – Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region – from 1991 to 2004 and then was given to African Parks Foundation), the conservation philosophy was not changed across the three regimes. The fundamental protectionist approach of the pre-1970s that advocates complete isolation of protected areas from human interaction and perceives local people as foes to the ‘wilderness’ continued to date. As a result, since late 1990s, resettlement programs were proposed as the only strategies to ‘sustainably’ manage the park and its resources. In a preparation to transfer the management of the park to The Netherlands-based Multinational Company (African Parks Foundation – APF), the resettlement process of the Guji and Koore communities became an inevitable option. While over thousand Koore
households were resettled to Abulo and Alfacho villages (some 50km to the south bordering Konso and Burji ethnic groups) in 2004/5, the Guji community initially refused to move. Finally, the SNNPR government deployed a police force gainst the Guji and pushed them away from the Nech-Sar plains at gunpoint. Reports from oral informants and other sources indicate that 463 Guji houses were burnt during the eviction while about 5000 people were evicted (Dowie, 2009).
The justification on the side of the park and government, particularly SNNPR, for the resettlement program is that local communities have continuously been encroaching into the park territory for pasture, water, agriculture and poaching. Therefore, it is claimed that increased competition between livestock and wildlife would threaten the survival of the latter and by implication affects the economic gain to be earned through tourism. It is also argued that further agricultural expansion into the park territory threatens homes of wildlife while hunting actually risks the life of the animals.
In contrast to what community-based conservation advocates propose, the actions of Ethiopian government and the APF in the early years of the new Millennium clearly fit into the classical conservation discourses that used to promote strict isolationist approach. According to Zube and Busch (1990), for sustainable environmental management, involvement of local peoples becomes uncompromised. The authors emphasize that sustainable community based conservation strategies
in protected areas include four possibilities: 1) a condition where local people are involved in managing the park and/or reside in the park, 2) park management delivers services for people residing outside the park, 3) maintenance of traditional uses inside the park (from outside) 4) local people’s involvement in tourism related activities (Zube and Busch, 1990, p. 117-126). As it has been noted above, this view itself does not address the dichotomous perceptions on human-non-human relations. It rather tries to seek a rights-based solution to local communities. As it was clearly stipulated in the agreement between the government and APF, the Ethiopian government took the mandate and responsibility to resettle the local people so that the company would proceed in fencing the park to deter any human and
livestock entrance into the territories designated for the park (APF Annual Report, 2007). In this regard, the resettlement program would detach the local people from their customary land because the sites selected for the resettlement were located at a minimum of 50km to the south of the park. It had also economic consequences as it dislocates the communities from the fertile lowland area called Tsalke, which is drained by Sermale River. The fertile Sermale basin provides year round opportunity for agriculture through irrigation. Currently, the people produce mango, avocado, coffee, banana, enset, maize, and root crops. For the Guji and few Koore communities who still live adjacent to the park,
the Sermale valley provides a means of survival that cannot be compromised.

The agro-pastoralist Guji community has had long history of interaction with the wildlife. Therefore, an insight into their cosmologies, perceptions on development and conservation approaches gives us a clear understanding of the implication of difference between national and local discourses on development and conservation. Since the Guji are one of the major local actors who influence the dynamics in the park, this paper focuses on different levels of confrontation between the Guji and the state over the park.
The Guji people belong to the larger Oromo nation and inhabit southern part of Ethiopia. Currently, they live in Oromia regional state in Borana and Guji zones with few members of the community included in NSSP (Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples) regional state in Sidama and Gedeo zones. The Guji community perceives the advent of park administration as an intervention into their historical harmonious relationship with the wildlife. The historical conservation practices among the Guji were entwined with their cosmological schemes and embedded in their culture, beliefs and norms. The Guji are among a few of Oromo nation who have strong cultural connection with their environments (Van De Loo, 1991). For the Guji, culture, peace and supernatural power, Waaqa (God) are strongly
entwined. Baxter (1991, p. 9) explains that “Guji, like other Oromo society, are keenly aware that the maintenance of their culture depends on the maintenance of Nagea: Peace, that is amongst them considered as a community and between them and God. But this peace is not a free gift; its maintenance requires continuous, earnest application, and is never sure or certain”. According to Baxter, the duty of maintaining peace rests on the shoulder of elders and requires them to provide continuous rituals, prayers, sacrifices, blessings and obeying the rules of Waaqa (Baxter 1991). The Guji elders
provide rituals and prayers to Waaqa on behalf of all people, cattle and their environment at large. The Guji believe that failure to maintain harmony with Waaqa may inflict by withholding the rain on which all animals and humans absolutely depend. The author remarks that “For fertility to continue and for all people and things to grow and mature, the Earth, the cattle and the women must all be moist” (Baxter, 1991, p. 10). Among the Guji community, cattle herding and possession of large herd of cattle are associated with cultural pride, economic values (wealth), sense of Guji identity and provides social privilege in marriage arrangement and inter-societal relationships. Tadesse (2006, p. 209) describes that though the Guji practise mixed economy of animal husbandry and crop cultivation, “their real wealth consists of cattle, sheep, goats and horses. Emotions and pride are centred on stock.
People who do not own cattle are not considered to be proper Guji”. In Guji culture, beyond the economic values, cattle are used for rituals, transition rites, gift, bride price, compensation during reconciliations, and as a symbol of social prestige. Therefore, the Guji count not in terms heads of cattle but of moona (kraal) that ranges from seventy to hundreds.
(However, the stock – source of wealth and reflection of Guji identity – is currently under serious depletion because restriction to pasture land and change in climatic conditions in the horn of Africa.) Their strong attachment to the stock provides the Guji with knowledge about their environment. As Van De Loo (1991) indicates, the Guji possess deep knowledge of the anatomy, disease and remedies that they acquired through religious practices and experiences. Despite owning large number of livestock, the Guji have traditionally no meat feeding culture. In most cases, their food constitutes barley, maize, and milk products. Meat is eaten only on special occasions such as festivals, reception of a special guest, weddings and so on. Traditionally, it was culturally prohibited among the Guji to eat the meat of wild
animals. While the reason for low meat consumption culture in reference to livestock is related to the value they give to cattle; the Guji claim that traditionally they do not eat meat of wild animals for many reasons. This prohibition was associated to religious belief, social implications and health factors.
The first one is closely related to their cosmological scheme in that they have an oath to safeguard the animals under the protection of the supernatural power, Waaqa/God. For the Guji, their relationship with wildlife is part and parcel of their connection to the supernatural power, Waaqa. Guji’s worldview puts the biophysical, the human and the supernatural in one integral component of the environment. They argue that the relationship between the three is based on reciprocity.
They state that;

Waaqa created us with cattle so that we look after them, care for them and use them for our needs. But these animals [wild animals] do not have shepherd except God Himself. Waaqa gave us the responsibility to care for the animals on his behalf and he cares for our cattle, people and generally nagaa Gujii [peace of the Guji land]. Therefore, if one kills the one that God looks after, he will inflict through famine, drought, disease and instability that destroys livestock and people. But, when we care for the animals, Waaqa reciprocates us with fertility, abundance, rain, and peace. Therefore, from our forefathers until today, we lived with these animals in peace and harmony. They are also peaceful to us (Group discussion, Ergansa, April 2011).
Through a reciprocal relationship, they expect Waaqa to bless them with fertility, peace, abundance, and health which they would get only by doing something good to the environment, especially caring for animals. In Guji worldview, all living and non-living things in their environment were created by a supernatural power, Waaqa. They believe that Waaqa created them with their cattle and gave them water and pasture to nurture their animals. It is their inherent conviction that they were born pastoralists, to look after cattle. At same time, they are conscious about the presence of other ‘cattle’ whose shepherd is Waaqa himself. These are what other people call wildlife. The Guji do not categorize “wild” and
“domesticated” in a strict sense of the words. The dichotomy prevails only when it comes to place of residence and ownership.
The Guji maintain a balance of food chain by safeguarding the prey wildlife, particularly herbivorous animals who seek refuge close to their homesteads in fear of big predators. A Guji elder said that “we care for the animals by providing grass and water, for example if we come across an animal in process of delivery or attacked by a predator. We do this because we want to save the life of the animals. Its owner loves them as we love our cattle” (interview with Danbala Badacha, May 2011). This also goes to what Tim Ingold (2000) explains as trust and reciprocity in human-non-human relations. According to the people, the preys developed trust upon the people and approach them seeking protection.
Another restriction is related to culture. Among the Qaalluu clan (a clan from where Qaalluu religious leaders are hereditarily elected), there are restrictions on many food items. Qaalluu institution is a religious institution that regulates the relationship of people with Waaqa. The leaders are seen as intermediaries between the two. The restriction includes poultry items, cabbage, meat from all wild animals, and some cereals such as millet, teff and sorghum. Many of the Guji around Nech Sar national park are from Alabdu clan – the clan known among the Guji as Qaalluu clan. Therefore, in traditional context, they were prohibited from eating the flesh of wild animals. Social taboos contribute to biodiversity conservation by imposing different levels of restrictions on members of a social group. Colding and Folke (2001) identified six types of social taboos exercised by indigenous peoples in different parts of the world. These include segment, temporal, method, life history, specific-species and habitat taboos (see Colding and Folke, 2001 for details on each category). In the context of Qaalluu regulation, a specific-species taboo applies to Guji’s restriction on consumption of specific animals. However, in traditional context, Guji’s prohibition of the killing of all wildlife, except those used for
cultural pride, can be related to general social taboo regardless of species specificity. Colding and Folke argue that such restrictions are mainly associated with beliefs in that “in some traditional societies taboos are enforced through beliefs that spirits will sanction violators by invoking illness upon people” (2001, p. 589). Likewise, the Guji believe that violation of the ancestral oath with Waaqa would invoke disasters on their livestock, people and the environment by causing drought that would lead to famine, the spread diseases and the disruption of peace. Moreover, avoidance of specific food items, including wild animals is meant to maintain their legitimacy as religious leaders.
Restriction to bush meat is also related to social implications it perpetuates. A person who kills wild animals for food is categorized among the poor because killing wildlife for food is perceived as derived from poverty. Poverty implies low social prestige, which in turn is reflected in marriage arrangement and other interpersonal relations. An elder from the Ergansa village recalled the tradition that “if a person is once labeled as killing animals for food, people would not give him their daughters for marriage. They would label the person saying he is from those who eat bush meat but now everyone abandoned the safuu (norms)”. Moreover, the Guji link the prohibition of bush meat with health conditions.
They claim that eating bush meat spoils one’s mouth and destroys teeth. It is also explained that it causes diseases (Getachew, 2007).
But it should be noted that there are exceptions in Guji’s prohibitions of the killing of wild animals. The first is when they need the meat for medicinal purposes. Even in the past, the people used to selectively kill some animals for medicine but once they kill a single animal, its meat can be kept for long period of time. The second exception is killing big game animals out of motives related to cultural honor. The Guji kill also big game animals for midda (honor). The killing of animals such as lion, buffalo, elephants and rhino give the killer a prestige of midda (Tadesse, 1994). The Guji claim that they were given midda culture by Waaqa. It is a culture through which they reveal their pride, greatness, bravery and thus the Guji believe that all these are given to them from Waaqa. However, today, it is only lion that exists
in and around the park.
As indicated above, institutions of resource governance and ethics pertaining to the utilization and access to resources among the Guji have been entwined with their cosmological schemes. Their attachment to their environment as part of their connection to Waaqa, religious institutions such as the Qaalluu institution, the socio-political system called the Gadaa system and other social norms and values are important local frameworks that guide the nature of resource management among the group. It is also worth mentioning that the livelihood engagement of the people, that is, pastoral activity prompts the people to systematically utilize the resources (pasture and water) in order to cope up to local climate
variability. Among the Guji, access to resource is decided by clan elders in which all members of the clan are eligible to common pasture and water grounds. However, granting water sources and pasture to members of other clan or ethnic group(s) is considered as future investment during times of scarcity or in cases of drought. There are also other social networks such as marriage and trade that necessitate sharing resources. The Guji say that letting livestock to die by blocking access to water and pasture is considered as transgressing Guji’s oath with Waaqa. Such act is believed to bring infliction by the Waaqa who would hold back rain or causes diseases. For the Guji, conservation and development are understood from cultural point of view. For instance, while caring for the environment is part of their cosmological schemes of local knowledge and belief, what they consider appropriate development scheme is something that is compatible to local values, customs and livelihood traditions. Although they
have expectations to get schools for their children, road connecting to the nearest markets, health centre, mill machine and access to pure water, any ‘development’ program that disrupts their traditional livelihood system – pastoralism – is not acceptable to the ordinary men and women. As stated earlier in this paper, livestock signifies beyond mere economic purpose among the Guji. Thus, state’s development conception that gives emphasis to settled agriculture and ecotourism project in the area is seen by the Guji as a challenge to their livelihood and a restriction on their customary rights of
resource utilization.
Following the birth of the modern Ethiopian state in the late 19th century through military conquest of the then autonomous states in the south, the state was noted for ethnic-based political dominations, economic exploitation and socio-cultural marginalization upon the subjected people (Vaughan, 2003). During those periods, peasants were restricted from their customary land rights while pastoral communities were highly marginalized from access to any social services (Hagmann and Mulugeta, 2008). Thus, because of its exploitative nature, the Ethiopian state remained predatory over the
people, particularly in the south. As Donald Donham (1986, p. 24) remarks on exploitation of the subjected peoples of the south, “By the early twentieth century, extractions from northern peasants lightened, just as those from southern peoples were made more heavy”. Donham bemoans that the Ethiopian state comprised a dual system in which the political economy of the north was sustained by massive transfer of wealth from the southern regions and that the peoples of the south were, notwithstanding their region’s contribution to the national economy, denied access to political power,
economic resources, and cultural autonomy.
Despite their contribution to the national economy, the peoples in the subjugated regions of the south were not given equal opportunities in the national economic, political and social affairs of the country not least their representation as ‘backward’ and ‘close to nature’ as portrayed in the legend of ‘Great Tradition’ (Donham, 1986; Levin 2000; Turton 2009). Such history of domination continued for over half a century until mid 20th century. In the 1960s, the pervasiveness of Amhara domination provoked a reaction from the subject peoples. Grievances that they were being economically-exploited, administratively-oppressed, socially-marginalized and culturally-stigmatized by the few Amhara
elites operating within ethnic-based oppressive system fomented a sense of ethnic self-awareness among the subjugated peoples. People who shared the historical experiences of oppression began to witness their dichotomized existence of privilege and deprivation based on ethnic distinctiveness. They harnessed on a repertoire of traditional values and deployed them as a fortification against the Amhara/Ethiopian ethnic hegemony (Bassi 1996; Seyoum 2001). Gradually, ethnic consciousness – a sense of awareness of being oppressed, exploited and marginalized on ethnic basis by elites of a 58
particular ethnic group – grew up into sense of ethnic nationalism, mainly among the educated segments of the oppressed ethnic groups who later contributed to the rise in ethnic self-representations and sense of identity among their respective groups.
Among possible factors that transformed ethnic grievances into consciousness and later into ethnic nationalism, the role of education was significant. In the post 1941 period, the expansion of modern education, specifically the opening of a university and colleges, brought a particular group of students close to the centre of political activity. Born in rural conditions, this group of students had direct experiences of the depredations of the ethnic-based oppressive system. The opportunity of higher education enabled them to conceptualize Amhara hegemony within Ethiopia in a broader
international dimension of colonial oppression. This cohort played a pivotal role in articulating ethnic grievances as ethnic consciousness and transforming the latter into ethnic nationalism, thereby in generating support for ethnonationalist liberation movements who included issues of ethnicity in their political agenda.
In effect, ethnic nationalism was articulated by the Ethiopian Student Movement (ESM) in the 1960s. This opened a new chapter for ethnic politics in the country where talking about ethnic diversity was condemned as a threat to national unity.
The ESM was first organized by Hailesillasie I University (now Addis Ababa University) students as a protest against the exploitative class relations under the imperial regime, which had impoverished the rural life. After mid 1960s, the movement added ‘the nationality question’ into the list of political agenda (Balsvik, 1985).
For the activists of the ESM, Marxist-Leninist philosophy was initially their inspiration for setting their political agenda. The solution they prescribed as a cure of the problem of national oppression – right to self-determination of nations and nationalities including secession – was brought to public attention in 1969 by an article written by Wallelign Mekonnen, one of the leaders of the student movement who was killed in 1972 during an attempted hijack of (Balsvik, 1985; Merera, 2003).The article sparked a political bombshell to the regime by explicitly addressing ethnicity and exposing the Amhara dominance and oppression to the public. A portion of his article reads as follows:
Is it [Ethiopian national identity] not simply Amhara and to a certain extent Amhara-Tigre supremacy? Ask anybody what Ethiopian culture is? Ask anybody what Ethiopian language is? Ask anybody what Ethiopian religion is? Ask anybody what is the national dress? It is either Amhara or Amhara-Tigray!! To be a ‘genuine Ethiopian’ one has to speak Amharic, to listen to Amharic music, to accept the Amhara-Tigre religion, Orthodox Christianity, and to wear the Amhara-Tigre shama in international conferences. In some cases to be an ‘Ethiopian’, you will even have to change your name. In short, to be an Ethiopian, you will have to wear an Amhara mask (Quoted in Balsvik 1985, 277).
Wallelign’s article broke the ice of silence on the issue of ethnicity among Ethiopian students. His was a strong condemnation of the century long illusion of the success of the imperial regime’s ‘nation-building’ project. Thus, the political, historical, economic and social realities of the country expressed in the form of ethnic-based oppression became the basis for the rise of ethno-nationalist movements devoted to a struggle for liberation from the century long ‘colonial experience’ or ‘national oppression’ (Merera, 2003). In short, ethnicity became an aspect of the call for political change of the major liberation fronts such as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and OLF (Oromo Liberation Front) and many others since the 1960s.  In the process, the last feudal regime was toppled in the 1974 revolution that brought a military junta to the political scene. Although some signs of recognition to issues of diversity were seen during the early years of the military regime, it could not move beyond rhetoric (Clapham, 2009). Clapham argues that the early promises of the military regime (i.e. the derg) that attracted popular support became a nightmare to most of the Ethiopian masses as the centralist policy
undermined local autonomies of those who contested the structure of the state itself (ibid). By the end of 1980s TPLF managed to organize other ethnic-based movements and formed Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front/EPRDF. In part because of its failure to address the nationalities questions, the military junta was ousted by the combined forces of different liberation movements. With EPRDF’s seizure of state power in 1991, ethnicity has been formally institutionalized as the foundation of ethnic federalism as a new political arrangement (Clapham, 2002; Turton 2006).
As a brainchild of the student movement, TPLF/EPRDF emphasized on rights of nations, nationalities and peoples to ‘self-determination’ (Clapham, 2009). In contrast to its predecessor, the military regime, which attempted to resolve the country’s most difficult issue – ethnic question vis-à-vis unity – through class struggle, the TPLF/EPRDF sought resolution to the issue through ‘voluntary’ federalism based on ethnic based autonomous units in a pursuit for forging national unity (Clapham, 2009). In this manner, the federal arrangement was conceived in the Transitional Charter of 1991 but was enacted by the 1994 constitution that came into effect a year later. The Ethiopian Constitution of 1995 can be described as comprehensive for embracing essential democratic values and declaring Ethiopia to be a party to all major international treaties on human rights and public law (Abbink, 2009). Article
39 of the Constitution, with its reference to rights of nations, nationalities and peoples, reveals the centrality of ethnicity as the organizing principle of the new political system:
Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has an unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession…Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has the right to speak, to write and to develop its own language; to express, to develop and to promote its culture; and to preserve its history…Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has the right to a full measure of self-government which includes the right to establish institutions of government in the territory that it inhabits and to equitable representation in state and Federal governments (Art. 39:3 of FDRE Constitution, 1995). Besides the envisioned promises of the political order in granting opportunities of self-government to nations and nationalities, it was also highly applauded by many scholars as a vehicle to harness local development through economic decentralization and empowerment of local institutions (Mohamed and Markakis, 1998; Kidane, 1997). However, as Asefa Fiseha (2006) contends, the Ethiopian ‘experiment’ of ethnic federalism suffers from rifts between rhetoric and practice lacking genuine devolution of power and precarious regional and local administrative units with strong
intervention from federal state. Although over twenty years have elapsed since the implementation of the political model, its success is still contested among scholars (Dereje, 2010). Apart from the view of detractors who skeptically see the experiment from a political dimension, the practice of ethnic federalism is still far behind the rhetorical promises (ibid). Although it opened some degree of political spaces and granted freedom of expression free before 2005, the new political order is at weakest point as far as genuine decentralization and local empowerment are concerned (Clapham,
2009; Dereje, 2010). Therefore, the success of the political order should be assessed on the basis of whether the discourse is translated into practice. The contestations and claims between different actors over Nech Sar national park illustrate how local conceptions of development and conservation confront with the national discourses.
An analysis of the existing conditions in and around Nech Sar national park can be posited within the contexts of local claims of entitlement (claims of customary rights, recognition of local knowledge, local livelihood conditions and questions of benefit sharing and participation), inter-regional conflicts of interests, issues related to self-government (the constitutional provisions versus the practice on the ground) and differences in conceptions of development and resource governance. In this section, I analyze how these conflicting views are contested, negotiated and acted upon. By so doing,
the implications of such contestations on development and conservation in and around the park will be elaborated by drawing on whether the national discourses are translated into practice.
The Guji challenge the state intervention into what they consider as their customary right drawing on historical claims and cosmological schemes. Historically, they argue that their ancestors were prior settlers in the area since the 16th century (Getachew, 2007). According to this claim, all the territories located to the east of Arbaminch town (including the town itself) were traditional Guji lands. Place names such as Siqala, Secha, Bishaan Hare, Haro Rophi, Bonke and many others were all Afan Oromo names – the language the Guji speak as all other Oromo groups. It was following the establishment of the town of Arbaminch and the national park in 1974 respectively that the Guji were pushed out to the
eastern part of the park. Besides reliance on history of settlement, the Guji seem to have systematically used the law (the constitution) to defend their rights to the land. According to Article 43 (2) of the FDRE (1995), Nationals have the right to participate in national development and, in particular, to be consulted with respect to policies and projects affecting their community”. However, in 2004/05 when the government agreed to transfer the management of the park to APF and took the responsibility of resettling the Guji and Koore communities who reside in and around the ‘park territories’, the
local communities were reported that they have been removed from their land at gun point without consent (Dawie, 2009). This contradicts with the official narratives of participatory development and decentralized government that advocate empowerment of local institutions in decision-making processes.
From cosmological dimension, the Guji challenge the ‘modernist’ approach espoused by the state contending that while the state institutions present conservation from isolationist perspective, the local people have inherent wisdom and belief that holistically treat human and non-human nature because of their connection to the supernatural power. A view of a Guji elder substantiates this argument in that:
If we or our ancestors didn’t care for the animals, wouldn’t it be that they would have been perished long time ago? Who cared for them before the coming of the state? Who cared for them 50 years ago? It was our grandparents, our parents and ourselves. But, these people [the park authorities] came yesterday [recently] and began telling us what to do and what not to do. We rather know how to live with the animals. We care for the animals as we do for our livestock not because of their order but because of orders we received from our Waaqaa through our ancestors. We care for them so that our cattle would multiply (interview with Gaga, April 2011). The Guji challenge state’s paternalistic approaches in which it imposes what to do and what not to do. In development spheres as well, successive Ethiopian regimes had similar views on pastoralist communities. For instance, pastoralist areas were noted as threats to the national security as a result of their trans-border movements and infiltration of small arms. As a result, they faced heavy forces of suppression in the hands of the central state. On the contrary, the country
heavily depends on pastoral communities for its export items like hides. Since 1991, the federal arrangement produced more of sedentary lifestyle based on more permanent and less flexible boundaries (Hagmann and Mulugeta, 2008). Such differential treatment of livelihood engagements that represents some activities as more preferred than others prompts one to ask whether the constitutional provisions are really translated into practice. As evidenced in 2004/05, after the Guji refused to move to the proposed resettlement site, the police force of the SNNP regional state forcefully displaced
them burning their huts and confiscating their properties. Ironically, Ethiopia’s federal constitution determines that “Ethiopian pastoralists have the right to free land for grazing and cultivation as well as the right not to be displaced from their own lands” (FDRE 1995, Art. 40).
In the process of transferring the management of the park to APF in 2004/05, the SNNP regional state government convened several meetings with representatives from Gamo Gofa zone, Amaro district, park authorities and regional bureau of agriculture. However, except in one meeting, no representatives from Oromia regional state were availed. To make the rhetoric of participation more questionable, there was no genuine involvement of local communities in the planning of resettlement program not least in the management of the park. Informants from both Guji and Koore communities argue that they were informed about the resettlement through local government authorities as inevitable government policy of development. One Guji informant remarks that; We don’t know if this government is really a government of the people or government of animals. Animals were better treated than our children, our livestock and ourselves in the past. We thought this government [EPRDF] would improve our conditions but still no change. They came and told us to go to Abulo Alfacho or elsewhere in Oromia. But we have nowhere to go. This is out ancestral land (interview with Danbala Badacha, May 2011).
Besides their discontent on exclusion in terms of participation in decision making, members of local communities expressed their dissatisfaction on the failed promise related to benefit sharing. Although involvement in ecotourism is not the primary motive of the people, particularly the elders and women, they still question that there is no benefit trickled down from this sector. In the Guji village in Ergansa – a village bordering the park on eastern side, children were observed attending primary school in huts made of wood and grass, were sitting on stones. There is no road connecting the village to the nearest market. The local people had to travel three to four days when they want to take their livestock
and other goods to the market. Besides the challenges this invokes in connection to time and energy of the people, it also reduces the price of livestock to be sold as the animals lose weight along the way without enough food and water. The other risky option for the local Guji people to get access to market is traveling on Lake Abaya by the traditional boat. The passengers risk their lives by crocodile and waves that sink the boat. Although the park authorities and other government officials used to tell the people that the income from the park through ecotourism will be used to provide social services to the local people, such promise remained unrealistic. Rather, the park authority sees the local people as threats to the park and works its level best to denounce all their activities labeling them as poachers and criminals.
At this junction, it is imperative to note that the official narratives of development and conservation that has been ‘emulated’ by successive regimes in Ethiopia contrast with local practical contexts (Clapham, 2006). As Clapham argues, the attempts of emulating foreign development discourses failed in Ethiopia mainly because it lacked harmonization with local contexts and by and large has been exclusionary of local traditions, customs and practices (2006). In this line, I would argue that the state version of development and conservation in the case of ‘ecotourism’ scheme in Nech Sar national park confronts with local conceptions and in the process brings different levels of contestation, negotiation and
display of power positions between different actors involved – the state and its agencies on the one hand and local actors on the other. However, it is worthy to single out the heterogeneity of actors in each category. Among the state category for example, Oromia regional state persistently demonstrated its positions supporting the local Guji claims for entitlement. In 2004/05, the regional government was given a responsibility to facilitate the resettlement of Guji Oromo into Oromia region. However, according to claims from SNNP regional state authorities, particularly officials in Amaro
district and Gamo Gofa zone – the two major actors in park affairs – the resettlement was delayed by reluctance of Oromia regional state. The views from Oromia questions the territorial reconfiguration of the park itself claiming that it was supposed to be administered under the region building its claim on Guji’s historical settlement in the area. This poses inter-regional conflict of interests on the governance of the park and the people surrounding it. Because of lack of institutional set-up to solve such inter-regional conflicts, except the Ministry of Federal Affairs, the federal arrangement seems to function through strong intervention of the federal government. That is why the park management has been
swinging between private company, SNNPR government and lastly the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority.
Office turnover and shifting conditions of management structures have obstructed consistency in management approach and produced mistrust on the part of the local people on whom to account for in cases of breaches in formal or informal agreements.
Another important aspect of the confrontation is its resultant consequence in changing local people’s attitude towards the park and prompting them to seek alternative mechanisms of securing their rights. According to James Scott (1990), the powerless would opt to hidden transcripts or hidden forms of resistance under conditions of domination. Likewise, as the domination of state apparatus continues to be stronger and stronger deploying coercive forces, the local people switch differently in covert and overt contexts. For example, they talk the words of the state (development and conservation) in
public spaces or with a researcher before rapport establishment. Their defiance of the state programs is evinced through acts of breaking park laws and discussions among members of the group. As signs of contesting the park boundaries, cattle trespass, hunting in the park and collecting forest resources are a few of acts conducted at night. More importantly, scouts employed from local communities also switch between the state and their members contextually. They are paid their salary by the government but they have also strong social networks with the local communities. Besides their connection through kinship and marriage, they depend on the people for much of their livelihood. Depending on government salary does not sustain the scouts and their family. As a result, they keep considerable number of livestock
with their kin who live close to the park. As a result, the scouts find themselves in dilemma in the confrontation between the state/park authorities and the local people. As one scout mentioned on conditions of anonymity, they conform to both state and local obligations differently. For instance, when they encounter hunters or cattle trespassers in the park territory, they chase the ‘intruders’ but report to the officials that the locals escaped the attempts of capture.
Elders from the local people argue that government intervention through so-called development and conservation schemes by evicting the people from their customary had changed the way local people; particularly the youth relate themselves with the park. Unlike in the past when the people considered the wildlife as part of their environment to be cared for, the distinction created by the state between the park and the people has brought a reconstruction of identity among the youth in which they identify the park and wildlife as foes. It can, therefore, be argued that any development program that excludes local values, norms and practices risks its missions. The ‘ecotourism’ project in Nech Sar national
park has has not only excluded the local people from their land by criminalizing their customary rights but it created a new hostile relationship between the people and the park. The ultimate effect of such top-down and non-participatory development and conservation program is destructive both to the people and the park resources.
In Ethiopia development and conservation models have been ‘emulated’ from more developed countries with the presumption that similar models would be replicated as they functioned in the host countries. Although adopting development models is not a cause of failure by itself, as it transformed Japan’s development to the expected end since the late 19th century for example, the politics of ‘emulation’ demands consideration of local contexts at best (Clapham, 2006). In the Nech Sar national park case, there are contesting views on conceptions of development and conservation.
The Ethiopian state has adopted the western approaches of nature conservation and development through ‘ecotourism’ that was derived from the protectionist perspectives of colonial period in Africa. This perspective not only excludes local people from their customary land rights, but it denigrates local knowledge of resource governance, management and conservation practices. As a result, the state ‘development’ and ‘conservation’ programs have created a hostile relationship between the people and the park and threatens the lives of the people and sustainability of the resources in
the park, particularly the wildlife for the protection of which the park was initially established.
Acknowledgement The fieldwork for this research has been done as part of my PhD project at the University of Bayreuth, Germany. While the travel expenses from Germany to Ethiopia were covered by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), all other fieldwork costs have been supported by Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS).

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Read related works at: Ethnicity and Inter-ethnic Relations by Asebe Regassa Debelo

Amnesty International’s Report: “Because I Am Oromo”: A Sweeping Repression in Oromia

OFILE - Ethiopian migrants, all members of the Oromo community of Ethiopia living in Malta, protest against the Ethiopian regime.


“Because I am Oromo”: A Sweeping Repression in Oromia… full report @:

“I was arrested for about eight months. Some school students had been arrested, so their  classmates had a demonstration to ask where they were and for them to be released. I was accused of organising the demonstration because the government said my father supported the OLF so I did too and therefore I must be the one who is  organising the students.”
Young man from Dodola Woreda, Bale Zone1

The anticipation and repression of dissent in Oromia manifests in many ways. The below are some of  the numerous and varied individual stories contained in this report:
A student told Amnesty International how he was detained and tortured in Maikelawi Federal Police detention centre because a business plan he had prepared for a competition was alleged to be underpinned by political motivations. A singer told how he had been detained, tortured and forced to agree to only sing in praise of the government in the future. A school girl told Amnesty International how she was detained because she refused to give false testimony against someone else. A former teacher showed Amnesty International where he had been stabbed and blinded in one eye with a bayonet during torture in detention because he had refused to ‘teach’ his students propaganda about the achievements of the ruling political party as he had been ordered
to do. A midwife was arrested for delivering the baby of a woman who was married to an alleged member of  the Oromo Liberation Front. A young girl told Amnesty International how she had successively lost both parents  and four brothers through death in detention, arrest or disappearance until, aged 16, she was left alone caring  for two young siblings. An agricultural expert employed by the government told how he was arrested on the  accusation he had incited a series of demonstrations staged by hundreds of farmers in his area, because his  job involved presenting the grievances of the farmers to the government.

In April and May 2014, protests broke out across Oromia against a proposed ‘Integrated Master Plan’ to expand the capital, Addis Ababa, into Oromia regional territory. The protests were led by students, though many other people participated. Security services, comprised of  federal police and the military special forces, responded to the protests with unnecessary and excessive force, firing live ammunition on peaceful protestors in a number of locations and  beating hundreds of peaceful protestors and bystanders, resulting in dozens of deaths and  scores of injuries. In the wake of the protests, thousands of people were arrested.
These incidents were far from being unprecedented in Oromia. They were the latest and  bloodiest in a long pattern of the suppression – sometimes pre-emptive and often brutal – of even suggestions of dissent in the region.  The Government of Ethiopia is hostile to dissent, wherever and however it manifests, and also shows hostility to influential individuals or groups not affiliated to the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) political party. The government has used arbitrary arrest and detention, often without charge, to suppress suggestions of dissent in many parts of the country. But this hostility, and the resulting acts of suppression, have  manifested often and at scale in Oromia.  A number of former detainees, as well as former officials, have observed that Oromos make up  a high proportion of the prison population in federal prisons and in the Federal Police Crime  Investigation and Forensic Sector, commonly known as Maikelawi, in Addis Ababa, where  prisoners of conscience and others subject to politically-motivated detention are often detained when first arrested. Oromos also constitute a high proportion of Ethiopian refugees.  According to a 2012 Inter-Censal Population Survey, the Oromo constituted 35.3% of  Ethiopia’s population. However, this numerical size alone does not account for the high  proportion of Oromos in the country’s prisons, or the proportion of Oromos among Ethiopians  fleeing the country. Oromia and the Oromo have long been subject to repression based on a widespread imputed opposition to the EPRDF which, in conjunction with the size of the  population, is taken as posing a potential political threat to the government. Between 2011 and 2014, at least 5,000 Oromos have been arrested as a result of their actual or suspected peaceful opposition to the government, based on their manifestation of  dissenting opinions, exercise of freedom of expression or their imputed political opinion. These included thousands of peaceful protestors and hundreds of political opposition members, but also hundreds of other individuals from all walks of life – students,  pharmacists, civil servants, singers, business people and people expressing their Oromo cultural heritage – arrested based on the expression of dissenting opinions or their suspected opposition to the government. Due to restrictions on human rights reporting, independent journalism and information exchange in Ethiopia, as well as a lack of transparency on detention practices, it is possible there are many additional cases that have not been reported or documented. In the cases known to Amnesty International, the majority of those arrested were detained without charge or trial for some or all of their detention, for weeks,
months or years – a system apparently intended to warn, punish punish or silence them, from which justice is often absent.
Openly dissenting individuals have been arrested in large numbers. Thousands of Oromos have been arrested for participating in peaceful protests on a range of issues. Large-scale arrests were seen during the protests against the ‘Master Plan’ in 2014 and during a series of  protests staged in 2012-13 by the Muslim community   in Oromia and other parts of the  country against alleged government interference in Islamic affairs. In addition, Oromos have  been arrested for participation in peaceful protests over job opportunities, forced evictions,  the price of fertilizer, students’ rights, the teaching of the Oromo language and the arrest or extra-judicial executions of farmers, students, children and others targeted for expressing  dissent, participation in peaceful protests or based on their imputed political opinion. Between 2011 and 2014, peaceful protests have witnessed several incidents of the alleged use of unnecessary and excessive force by security services against unarmed protestors. 
  Hundreds of members of legally-registered opposition political parties have also been arrested in large sweeps that took place in 2011 and in 2014, as well as in individual incidents. 

In addition to targeting openly dissenting groups, the government also anticipates dissent  amongst certain groups and individuals, and interprets certain actions as signs of dissent.  Students in Oromia report that there are high levels of surveillance for signs of dissent or political activity among the student body in schools and universities. Students have been  arrested based on their actual or suspected political opinion, for refusing to join the ruling party or their participation in student societies, which are treated with hostility on the  suspicion that they are underpinned by political motivations. Hundreds of students have also been arrested for participation in peaceful protests.

Expressions of Oromo culture and heritage have been interpreted as manifestations of  dissent, and the government has also shown signs of fearing cultural expression as a potential catalyst for opposition to the government. Oromo singers, writers and poets have been arrested for allegedly criticising the government and/or inciting people through their work. People wearing traditional Oromo clothing have been arrested on the accusation that this demonstrated a political agenda. Hundreds of people have been arrested at Oromo traditional festivals.

Members of these groups – opposition political parties, student groups, peaceful protestors, people promoting Oromo culture and people in positions the government believes could have influence on their communities – are treated with hostility not only due to their own actual or perceived dissenting behaviour, but also due to their perceived potential to act as a conduit  or catalyst for further dissent. A number of people arrested for actual or suspected dissent  told Amnesty International they were accused of the ‘incitement’ of others to oppose the government.

The majority of actual or suspected dissenters who had been arrested in Oromia interviewed  by Amnesty International were accused of supporting the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) – the armed group that has fought a long-term low-level insurgency in the region, which was proscribed as a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian parliament in June 2011. The accusation of OLF support has often been used as a pretext to silence individuals openly  exercising dissenting behaviour such as membership of an opposition political party or  participation in a peaceful protest. However, in addition to targeting demonstrators, students,members of opposition political parties and people celebrating Oromo culture based on their  actual or imputed political opinion, the government frequently demonstrates that it  anticipates dissenting political opinion widely among the population of Oromia. People from all walks of life are regularly arrested based only on their suspected political opinion – on the  accusation they support the OLF. Amnesty International interviewed medical professionals, business owners, farmers, teachers, employees of international NGOs and many others who  had been arrested based on this accusation in recent years. These arrests were often based on suspicion alone, with little or no supporting evidence.

Certain behaviour arouses suspicion, such as refusal to join the ruling political party or  movement around or in and out of the region. Some people ‘inherit’ suspicion from their  parents or other family members. Expressions of dissenting opinions within the Oromo party  in the ruling coalition – the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) – have also been responded to with the accusation that the dissenter supports the OLF. Family members have also been arrested in lieu of somebody else wanted for actual or suspected dissenting behaviour, a form of collective punishment illegal under international law. 

In some of these cases too, the accusation of OLF support and arrest on that basis appears to be a pretext used to warn, control or punish signs of ‘political disobedience’ and people who have influence over others and are not members of the ruling political party. But the constant  repetition of the allegation suggests the government continues to anticipate a level of  sympathy for the OLF amongst the Oromo population writ large. Further, the government  appears to also believe that the OLF is behind many signs of peaceful dissent in the region.

However, in numerous cases, the accusation of supporting the OLF and the resulting arrest  do not ever translate into a criminal charge. The majority of all people interviewed by  Amnesty International who had been arrested for their actual or suspected dissenting behaviour or political opinion said that they were detained without being charged, tried or  going to court to review the legality of their detention, in some cases for months or years. Frequently, therefore, the alleged support for the OLF  remains unsubstantiated and unproven. Often, it is merely an informal allegation made during the course of interrogation. Further, questions asked of actual or suspected dissenters by interrogators in detention also suggest that the exercise of certain legal rights  –for example, participation in a peaceful protest – is taken as evidence of OLF support.  A number of people interviewed by Amnesty International had been subjected to repeated arrest on the  same allegation of  of being  anti-government or   of OLF support, without ever being charged. 

Amnesty International interviewed around 150 Oromos who were targeted for actual or  suspected dissent. Of those who were arrested on these bases, the majority said they were subjected to arbitrary detention without judicial review, charge or trial, for some or all of the period of their detention, for periods ranging from several days to several years. In the majority of those cases, the individual said they were arbitrarily detained for the entire duration of their detention. In fewer cases, though still reported by a notable number of interviewees, the detainee was held arbitrarily – without charge or being brought before a court – during an initial period that again ranged from a number of weeks to a number of  years, before the detainee was eventually brought before a court.

A high proportion of people interviewed by Amnesty International were also held  incommunicado – denied access to legal representation and family members and contact with the outside world – for some or all of their period of detention. In many of these cases, the detention amounted to enforced disappearance, such as where lack of access to legal counsel and family members and lack of information on the detainee’s fate or whereabouts placed a detainee outside the protection of the law. them again. The family continued to be ignorant of their fate and did not know whether they  were alive or dead.Many people reported to Amnesty International that, after their family members had been arrested, they had never heard from.

Arrests of actual or suspected dissenters in Oromia reported to Amnesty International were  made by local and federal police, the federal military and intelligence officers, often without  a warrant. Detainees were held in Kebele, Woreda and Zonal3 detention centres, police stations, regional and federal prisons. However, a large proportion of former detainees interviewed by Amnesty International were detained in unofficial places of detention, mostly  in military camps throughout the region. In some cases apparently considered more serious, detainees were transferred to Maikelawi in Addis Ababa. Arbitrary detention without charge or trial was reported in all of these places of detention.

Almost all people interviewed by Amnesty International who had been detained in military camps or other unofficial places of detention said their detention was not subject to any form of judicial review. All detainees in military camps in Oromia nterviewed by Amnesty International experienced some violations of the rights and protections of due process and a high proportion of all interviewees who had been detained in a military camp reported torture, including rape, and other ill-treatment.
Actual or suspected dissenters have been subjected to torture in federal and regional detention centres and prisons, police stations, including Maikelawi, military camps and other  unofficial places of detention. The majority of former detainees interviewed by Amnesty  International, arrested based on their actual or imputed political opinion, reported that they had been subjected to treatment amounting to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, in most cases repeatedly, while in detention or had been subjected to treatment that amounts to torture or ill-treatment in and around their homes. Frequently reported methods of torture were beating, particularly with fists, rubber batons, wooden or metal sticks or gun butts, kicking, tying in contorted stress positions often in conjunction with beating on the soles of the feet, electric shocks, mock execution or death threats involving a gun, beating with electric wire, burning, including with heated metal or molten plastic, chaining or tying hands or ankles together for extended periods (up to several months), rape, including gang rape, and extended solitary confinement. Former detainees repeatedly said that they  were coerced, in many cases under torture or the threat of torture, to provide a statement or confession or incriminating evidence against others.
Accounts of former detainees interviewed by Amnesty International consistently demonstrate that conditions in detention in regional and federal police stations, regional and federal prisons, military camps and other unofficial places of detention, violate international law and  national and international standards. Cases of death in detention were reported to Amnesty  International by former fellow detainees or family members of detainees. These deaths were  reported to result from torture, poor detention conditions and lack of medical assistance.  Some of these cases may amount to extra-judicial executions, where the detainees died as a result of torture or the intentional deprivation of food or medical assistance. 

There is no transparency or oversight of this system of arbitrary detention, and no independent investigation of allegations of torture and other violations in detention. No independent human rights organizations that monitor and publically document violations have access to detention centres in Ethiopia.

In numerous cases, former detainees interviewed by Amnesty International also said their release from arbitrary detention was premised on their agreement to a set of arbitrary  conditions unlawfully imposed by their captors rather than by any judicial procedure, and  many of which entailed foregoing the exercise of other human rights, such as those to the freedoms of expression, association and movement. Failure to uphold the conditions, detainees were told, could lead to re-arrest or worse. Regularly cited conditions included: not participating in demonstrations or other gatherings, political meetings or student activities; not meeting with more than two or three individuals at one time; not having any contact with certain people, including spouses or family members wanted by the authorities for alleged dissenting behaviour; or not leaving the area where they lived without seeking permission from local authorities. For a number of people interviewed by Amnesty International, it was the difficulty of complying with these conditions and the restricting impact they had on their  lives, or fear of the consequences if they failed to comply, intentionally or unintentionally, that caused them to flee the country.
The testimonies of people interviewed by Amnesty International, as well as information received from a number of other sources and legal documents seen by the organization, indicate a number of fair trial rights are regularly violated in cases of actual or suspected  Oromo dissenters that have gone to court, including the rights to a public hearing, to not be  compelled to incriminate oneself, to be tried without undue delay and the right to presumption of innocence. Amnesty International has also documented cases in which the lawful exercise of the right to freedom of expression, or other protected human rights, is cited as evidence of illegal support for the OLF in trials. Amnesty International also received dozens of reports of actual or suspected dissenters being
killed by security services, in the context of security services’ response to protests, during the  arrests of actual or suspected dissidents, and while in detention. Some of these killings may  amount to extra-judicial executions. A multiplicity of both regional and federal actors are involved in committing human rights violations against actual or suspected dissenters in Oromia, including civilian administrative  officials, local police, federal police, local militia, federal military and intelligence services,
with cooperation between the different entities, including between the regional and federal levels.
Because of the many restrictions on human rights organizations and on the freedoms of  association and expression in Ethiopia, arrests and detentions are under-reported and almost no sources exist to assist detainees and their families in accessing justice and pressing for  remedies and accountability for human rights violations.

The violations documented in this report take place in an environment of almost complete impunity for the perpetrators. Interviewees regularly told Amnesty International that it was either not possible or that there was no point in trying to complain, seek answers or seek justice in cases of enforced disappearance, torture, possible extra-judicial execution or other violations. Many feared repercussions for asking. Some were arrested when they did ask about a relative’s fate or whereabouts.
As Ethiopia heads towards general elections in 2015, it is likely that the government’s efforts to suppress dissent, including through the use of arbitrary arrest and detention and other  violations, will continue unabated and may even increase. The Ethiopian government must take a number of urgent and substantial measures to ensure no-one is arrested, detained, charged, tried, convicted or sentenced on account of the peaceful exercise of their rights to the freedoms of expression, association and assembly, including the right to peacefully assemble to protest, or based on their imputed political opinion; to end unlawful practices of arbitrary detention without charge or trial, incommunicado detention without access to the outside world, detention in unofficial detention centres, and enforced disappearance; and to address the prevalence of torture and other ill-treatment in Ethiopia’s detention centres. All allegations of torture, incidents involving allegations of the unnecessary or excessive use of force by security services against peaceful protestors, and all suspected cases of extra-judicial executions must be urgently and
properly investigated. Access to all prisons and other places of detention and to all prisoners should be extended to appropriate independent, non-governmental bodies, including international human rights bodies.
Donors with existing funding programmes working with federal and regional police, with the military or with the prison system, should carry out thorough and impartial investigations into allegations of human rights violations within those institutions, to ensure their funding is not contributing to the commission of human rights violations. Further, the international community should accord the situation in Ethiopia the highest possible level of scrutiny. Existing domestic investigative and accountability mechanisms have proved not capable of carrying out investigations that are independent, adequate, prompt, open to public scrutiny and which sufficiently involve victims. Therefore, due to the  apparent existence of an entrenched pattern of violations in Ethiopia and due to concerns over the impartiality of established domestic investigative procedures, there is a substantial
and urgent need for intervention by regional and international human rights bodies to conduct independent investigations into allegations of widespread human rights violations in Oromia, as well as the rest of Ethiopia. Investigations should be pursued through the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry, fact-finding mission or comparable procedure, comprised of independent international experts, under the auspices of the United Nations Human Rights Council or the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. 

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Amnesty International’s report titled, “‘Because I Am Oromo’: A Sweeping Repression in Oromia …” can be accessed here.

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Does British aid to Africa help the powerful more than the poor?

Essence of the Scottish Referendum in the Eyes of an Oromo Nationalist #Oromia

OScotland in the United Kingdom, and Oromia in the Ethiopian Empire (Illustration, Not Drawn to Scale)

Essence of the Scottish Referendum in the Eyes of an Oromo Nationalist

By Boruu Barraaqaa | September 9, 2014

It is obvious that both supporters and opponents of Oromian independence in Ethiopia are watching carefully what is going on in the UK. Both political entities have their own reasons for their respective wishes. Some Abyssinian elites could ridiculously try to resemble their cause to that of English elites, who were in the forefront of building the great nation, UK. However, there is no factual resemblance between the savage invaders from Abyssinia and the most civilized, prosperous and the leading democratic nation in the world. In spite of the fact that the British were once the brutal colonialist rulers in the world history, I don’t judge them by their history of yesterday in this context, but by who they are and what they are contributing for the betterment of our world today.

Therefore, our comparison should not be based on the past history, but on what is going on today. I am happy to see a historical test that is happening in a leading democratic nation, UK, but I will not have a cause to rejoice if I see the Scottish independence or to be sad by their possible defeat simply because of I am from a fellow suppressed nation in Africa. The encouraging event for the colonized peoples like the Oromo is just to witness such kind of referendums around the world and grabbing some experiences for their own future. Feelings that could spark from any result of the referendum should be left for the stakeholders.    

Before I try to shed some light on the prospective result of the referendum, let me contrast the politico-historical back ground of Scotland and Oromia.

First and for most, Scotland is a nation in the long civilized Europe, particularly part of the state whose flag remembered in history as ‘No sunset over the Union Jack’, while Oromia has been suffered under a barbaric African feudo-dictatorial system.

Oromia and Scotland share some similarities in their political, historical, religious, social, and many other features, however, their differences are much greater than their similarities in contrasting with the typical figure they have in their respective unions (empire in the Oromian-Ethiopian case). To start with population number comparison, out of 60. 6 million (2006 estimate, now approximately 63 m.) of UK population, England constitutes the majority number (around 83 per cent) while Scotland is a third minority with under 9 per cent of total population, followed by the least minorities of Wales (5 per cent) and Northern Ireland (3 per cent). However, being a home to the single largest national group, Oromia constitutes the majority number in Ethiopia with approximately 50% of the total population (including Amharic, Tigrigna and other languages speaking Oromos). So in the case of population number, land mass and economic significance, Oromia resembles to England, not to Scotland.

mapofgreatbritainThe other significant point of difference between the two nations is historical backgrounds.     The kingdom of Great Britain was formed by the Act of Union of 1707 between England and Scotland (emphasis add). England (including the principality of Wales, annexed in the 14th century and legallyunified with England in the 16th century) and Scotland had been separate kingdoms since the early Middle Ages (emphasis added). Despite being part of the union, Scotland has retained its own legal system, its own Church (Church of Scotland), a substantially different education system, and the right to issue its own bank notes. However, Oromia and Ethiopia have never signed such acts of union in history. Abyssinia invaded Oromia in the second half of 19th century, which led to the creation of modern (not the Kushite great antiquity) Ethiopia as an empire. Retaining its own legal egalitarian system (the Gada), its own religion (Waqeffannaa), its own education system (Gada classes), and issuing its own bank notes were definitely inconceivable rights in the Ethiopian empire system.

In case of politics also we find an edifice difference between UK’s Scotland and Ethiopia’s Oromia. Scotland is represented by 59 Members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons (prior to the 2005 general election the number was 72). With the parliamentary elections of May 6, 1999, Scotland gained its own Scottish Parliament for the first time in nearly 300 years. There are 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) today. In Ethiopia, however, there were no such representation systems even for a symbol, until very recent time. Even in the Woyane’s federal administration system, members of parliament are ‘elected’ by their allegiance to the ruling EPRDF core party- TPLF, not by the will of the constituencies. Those who are said to have represented the Oromo people have no courage, right or the capacity to argue for the Oromo cause in their rubber stamp parliament.

scotlandThere has been an astonishing development in the Scotland politics of recent times. The people of Scotland have shown an interesting growing of nationalism in the last few decades, particularly from 1980. Two leading British parties, the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, shared the majority of Scottish seats in Parliament from the 1920s until the late 1970s. Since then, however, the Conservative Party, although the party of government for the United Kingdom as a whole from 1979 to 1997, increasingly became a minority party in Scotland. By the 1990s it had become less popular than the Scottish National Party (SNP), which was founded in 1934 in order to press for complete self-government.

In the case of Oromia-Ethiopia, however, the fact is quite a reverse one. The vanguard organization that represents the majority’s cause of the nation (Oromo Liberation Front), was forced to leave the system as soon as the regime took power and later has been banned for more than the last two decades. The two opposition parties in Oromia (OPC and OFDM currently merged as OFC) have never had the right to strengthen their influence over the ruling party in the region. Despite their later merger, the new united party is showing more emaciation to death, due to the ongoing deliberate harassments by the ruling party cadres.

The only point which resembles both nations, the Oromo and the Scots, could be roughly the political inferiority. However, even here the difference is greater. Scotland is a country in an outstanding world democracy that can fulfil its every demand in a peaceful and negotiable way, whereas Oromia is under one of the Third World notorious dictatorship systems which deceives the world under the guise of ‘on the process to build a democratic system’.

Let’s turn to the essence of Scottish upcoming referendum. Even though they have a legally recognized self rule system, the Scots are still never satisfied by the rights they have obtained so far. In 2012 election, the Scottish National Party (SNP) won the majority seats of Scotland’s parliament and proclaimed that it will hold a referendum in September 2014. Accordingly, now on the verge of possible secession after seven months, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron is reacting to the approaching concern. In one of his previous interviews with BBC Mr. Cameroon said “Centuries of history hang in the balance; a question mark hangs over the future of United Kingdom.” In his speech, he mentioned that there are four compelling reasons to save the Union: the economic benefits of being a bigger country, greater international clout, connection between people and the cultural impact of the UK. I personally share the four truths about UK that the Prime Minister mentioned. However in Ethiopia, if the Oromo gained such right to hold a referendum, the truths Mr. Cameron mentioned for UK do not work for it. As he remind, UK is both economically and politically one of the leading nations in the world. But Ethiopia is one of the poorest, starved and backward nations in the world, which has never shown any meaningful progress despite tens of billions of dollars it has earned from governments like UK itself. The reason is crystal clear. Its government is among the most brutal, suppressive and corrupt states on the globe. These are some of our shining differences. So no need to surprise if, in case, the majority of Scot population vote in favour of saving the Union or the referendum fails to win independence.

As I have mentioned above, all member states of the UK have a good devolved power to their respected countries. Scotland, which is one of these benefited countries, could neither lose much because of its voting for Yes nor gain much for voting No. Mr. Cameron also urged people in Scotland who wanted to see further devolution to vote No in the referendum. From the promise of more devolution by the UK government, Scotland could benefit more weather it votes for the No Independence or otherwise.

When we back to the fact in Ethiopia, the Oromo can see a huge deference in voting for Ethiopian unity or for Oromian independence. Constituting the majority portion of the total population with the significance economy, the Oromo have lost most of their political, economic, social and cultural benefits to the alien regimes who have ruled them with iron and fist for more than a century. To end the unjust system, there must be significant power devolution to Oromia level. Only after then, the need for stay in a possible new and just union or to go could be determined by holding a referendum.

As an Oromo, It is not my interest to see a torn apart UK. I don’t believe my nation would benefit from UK’s decline by any ways. Though I am not against the rights of the Scottish people, I believe that it is a stronger, a prosperous, an exemplary and a united Great Britain which can contribute much in assisting genuine world democratisations. I don’t wish to see their national failure in tit for tat of what they have contributed in supporting brutal regimes like that of Ethiopia. It is my wish to see them remaining as a strong and peaceful nation as they are and set the record straight by playing a leading role in taking major actions against the repressive regimes around the world, particularly Ethiopia’s EPRDF.

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The Conflict between the Ethiopian State and the Oromo People, by Dr. Alemayehu Kumsa






 “What is important to consider is the significance of the fact that the people who control TPLF (Tigrai People’s Liberation Front) and Government are very parochial minded and appalling arrogant charlatans. They are extremely violent, insanely suspicious … With twin character flaws of excessive love of consumer goods and obsession with status and hierarchy… Fear, blackmail, intrigue, deception, suspicion, and brutality are its defining characteristics. It is absolutely insane for anyone to expect democracy from a secretive and tyrannical organization as such the TPLF and its spawn” (Hagos 1999:66)71. This study proves the observation of Prof. Gellner (1983) “the Amhara Empire was a prison house of nations if ever was one”72. The contemporary government of Ethiopia controlled by Tigrians is worse than all previous governments economically, politically, militarily and in human rights violation of Oromo and other nations which means, it is one of the worst prison houses of nations in Africa.


The Conflict between the Ethiopian State and the Oromo People

Published: Centro de Estudos Internacionais do Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL) (5th European Conference on African Studies/ECAS – June 27-29, 2013)
Keywords: Colonialism, Abyssinia, Oromo, Ethiopia, Liberation Movement

Colonialism is a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another. The etymology of the term from Latin word colonus, meaning farmer. This root reminds us that the practice of colonialism usually involves the transfer of population to new territory, where the arrivals lived as permanent settlers while maintaining political allegiance to the country of origin. Colonialism is a characteristic of all known civilizations. Books on African history teaches us that Ethiopia and Liberia are the only countries, which were not colonized by West European states, but the paper argues that Ethiopia was created by Abyssinian state colonizing its neighbouring nations during the scramble for Africa. Using comparative colonial history of Africa, the paper tries to show that Abyssinian colonialism is the worst of conquest and colonial rule of all territories in Africa, according to the number of people killed during the conquest war, brutal colonial rule, political oppression, poverty, lack of education, diseases, and contemporary land grabbing only in the colonial territories. In its arguments, the paper discusses why the Oromo were defeated at the end of 19th century whereas we do have full historical documents starting from 13th century in which the Oromo defended their own territory against Abyssinian expansion. Finally the paper will elucidate the development of Oromo national struggle for regaining their lost independence.

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Oromo: “For a people facing complete erasure, survival itself is a revolutionary act”, IOYA’s Former President Ayantu Tibeso at the Macha-Tulama Association’s 50th Anniversary Celebration






The fact that we are gathered here today to honor the founding of Macha Tulama 50 years ago speaks to the fact that despite all odds, we, as a people are survivors. Ethiopian history is full of attempts to annihilate the Oromo—culturally, politically, socially, economically, in all and every ways possible.Oromos — cast as foreign, aliens to their own lands, have been the targets of the entire infrastructure of the Ethiopian state since their violent incorporation. Our identity, primarily language, religion and belief systems and cultural heritage have been the main targets of wanton destruction.   Oromo and its personhood were already demonized, characterized as embodiments of all that is inferior, shameful and subhuman from the beginning. Oromo people were economically and politically exploited, dominated and alienated.

Ayantu Tibeso

Listening to Ethiopia’s South: Music, Musicians, and the Performance of Oromo Nationalism


Listening to Ethiopia’s South: Music, Musicians, and the Performance of Oromo Nationalism

By Harvard  University Professor Kay Kaufman Shelemay

Oromo Studies Collection


 Harvard University’s African Studies Workshop Featuring Kay Kaufman Shelemay: “Listening to Ethiopia’s South: Music, Musicians, and the Performance of Oromo Nationalism”

Title: Listening to Ethiopia’s South: Music, Musicians, and the Performance of Oromo Nationalism
Author: Kay Kaufman Shelemay (Professor of Music and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University)
Published: Seminar Presentation, African Studies Workshop at Harvard University
Language: English
Keywords: Ethnography, Ethnomusicology, Music, Oromo Nationalism

On March 3, 2014, Kay Kaufman Shelemay, G. Gordon Watts Professor of Music and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, presented, “Listening to Ethiopia’s South: Music, Musicians, and the Performance of Oromo Nationalism.” Ingrid Monson, Quincy Jones Professor of African American Music at Harvard University, was the discussant.

Original Source: African Studies at Harvard University


Decolonizing Development:The Political and Cultural Locations of Nationalism and National Self-determination (the Case of Oromia)




Decolonizing Development:The Political and Cultural Locations of Nationalism and National Self-determination (the Case of Oromia)

Several scholars have argued that national self-determination is a claim for cultural independence and that nationalism in general is based on the right to cultural autonomy, right to a culture. In the Oromo context, national self-determination is about the representation of collective identity and dignity. It is the demand of the Oromo people to govern themselves. Practically, this can be interpreted as let us be governed by people who are like us, people of our nationality or people who accept and respect our value system. For the last hundred years and so, the Oromo nation has suffered from Abyssinian expansionism, social, ecological and economic destruction and continuous and intensive cultural and physical genocide. The Abyssinians and Oromians connections have been the coloniser (refers to the former) and the colonised (refers to the latter) relationships. Contrary to the Ethiopianist discourse, they have not developed a common unifying identity, social and political system. While the Abyssinians feel a sense of glory of their kings, warlords and dictators, the Oromians feel victimisation to these rulers, so they have not emerged a common ancestry, culture and collective memory, which can result in common ‘Ethiopian’ identity. From the perspective of Oromo social construction, the present Ethiopian domination over Oromia is a continuation of what pervious generations of Oromo nation had experienced. Thus, the Oromo people, sees the present political arrangement as illegitimate because it is a rule by the people who have engaged in destroying them. So, they claim not only cultural but also political independence. Oromo nationalism is also very democratic. It follows the UN principles of self-determination for the citizens of Oromia, claiming independence from the tyranny of Ethiopian Empire. The latter has been constructed based on Amhara-Tigre nationalism. The Oromo nationalism also offers democratic solutions to the ethnic minorities in the Ethiopian Empire. Scholars of Oromo studies claim that there is fundamental behavioural, linguistic, ethnic and cultural differences between the Abyssinians (northern) and their subjects (Southern). The Oromo, Sidama, Afar and the Ogaden (Ogaden Somalians) nations, beyond their common Cushitic progeny, they have common experiences of victimisation and illegitimately absorbed by Abyssinian southward expansion. Their collective memory of past experiences and present victimisation are making common identity. This identity is a key to understand politics there and to work together for self-determination, to recover their lost humanity.

Man knows himself only insofar as he knows the world, and becomes aware of the world only in himself, and of himself only in it. Every new object, well observed, opens a new organ in ourselves.

Goethe, Maximen und Reflexionen, VI Build therefore your own world. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature


The passions of national freedom and national interest are probably the strongest in the whole political spectrum that characterises the present world. Kellas (1998) holds that it is stronger than the passions aroused by religion, class, individual or group interest. This passion is not all futile, either. In Gellener’s (1983) understanding, nationalism has been considered as essential to the establishment of a modern industrial society. According to Smith (1991), it is ‘the sole vision and rationale of political solidarity.’ For Kellas (1998), it provides legitimacy to the state, and inspires its citizens to feel an emotional attachment towards it. It can be a source of creativity in the arts, and enterprise in the economy. Its power to mobilise political engagement is unrivalled, particularly in the vital activity of nation building. It is intimately linked with the operation of popular democracy. Indeed, the global pattern is a mosaic of political drives, economic interests, linguistic pride, cultural imperatives, psychological needs and nations seeking identity. These factors are manifesting as a powerful staying power in a modern Africa, either. As European colonialism and socialism melted away, the perpetual existence of the backlash against ‘neo-colonial’ colony colonialism and the reviving of national selfdom become more and more significant in social and political dynamics of contemporary multi-ethno-nation African societies. The African experience is motivated by the same aspirations as that of elsewhere. At its root is a need for freedom, dignity, for the right of people of distinct social communities to function freely and independently. In this regard, Oromia represents the case of rejuvenating claim for national freedom and the struggle against more than a century old Abyssinian Empire colonialism in Africa. Oromia is a homeland for an Oromo nation, a group of people with a common culture and value system (seera fi aadaa), language ( Afaan Oromo), political institutions (Gadaa), and historical memories and experiences. Oromia is the single largest, homogeneous and endogenous nation in Africa with a population of 40 to 45 million. Both in terms of territorial and population size, more than two-third’s today’s sovereign states that are making members of UN (United Nations) are smaller than Oromia. The Cushite (see Demie, 1998) Oromo people have inhibited their homeland, Oromia, since pre-history and in antiquity were the agents of humanity’s documented Cushitic civilisation in terms of science, technology, art, political and moral philosophy. The links between the Oromo and the ancient civilisations of Babylon, Cush and Egypt has been discussed in Asfaw Beyene (1992) and John Sorenson (1998) scholarly works. Utilising prodigious evidence from history, philosophy, archaeology and linguistics, Diop (1974 and 1991) confirms that the Cushite Egyptian civilisation was emerged from the Cushite civilisations of North East Africa, particularly, the present day Western Sudan and upper Nile Oromia (also known as Cush or Punt). Indeed, except the name of places, saints and prophets, many of the Old Testament and the Holy Koran moral texts are copies of the Oromo moral codes. The formers are written documents while the latter are orally transmitted. Since the late 1880s the Oromo people have disowned their sovereignty. They disowned their autonomous institutions of governance, culture, education, creativity, business, commerce, etc. Thus, they have been claiming for national self-determination, national-self government and the right to their own state and resist the Abyssinian Empire saver (supremacist’s) nationalism. The Oromians are not only against the quality of Ethiopian Empire governance but also against the philosophy on which it is based: domination, dehumanisation, inequality, double standard, hypocrisy, deceit, exclusion, chauvinism, war institution, rent-seeking, extractive state, conservatism, feudalism, Aste fundamentalism (Aste Tewodros, Aste Yohannis, Aste Menelik, Aste Haile Sellasie), etc. The political goal of national self-determination (national self-government) is asserted in the outlook and attitudes of the Oromo political and social organisations. Of course, the Oromo nationalism, which supports the interests and identity of the Oromo people, is a more subtle, complex and widespread phenomenon than common understanding and observation. It is within this context that we are going to discuss the Oromos’ politics of national self-determination and the search for the national homeland, the demand for reinventing a state of their own in the following sections.

Defining Nation, Nationalism and Self- determination

To define nation and nationalism is as Benjamin Akzin (1964, pp. 7-10) discussed five decades ago, to enter into a terminological jungle in which one easily gets lost. Different scholarly disciplines have their own more or less established and more or less peculiar ways of dealing with nation and nationalism. Ideally, our definition of nation and nationalism should be induced of elements of nationalist ideology. Getting at such a definition has confirmed phenomenally strenuous. Hugh Seton-Watson, an authority in this domain, has deduced that ‘no scientific definition’ of a nation can be concocted. All that we can find to say is that a nation exists when significant number of people in a community consider themselves to form a nation, or behave as if they formed one (Seton-Watson, 1982, p.5).Van den Berghe (1981) defines a nation as a politically conscious ethnic group. Several attempts have been made at making a cardinalist definition of the term, pointing out one or more key cultural variables as defining variables. Among those tried are language, religion, common history/descent, ethnicity/race, statehood and common territory (homeland). For a group of people to be termed a nation, its members typically have to share several of these characteristics, although historically, one criterion may have been predominant (for example, language in Germany, or culture and history in France). In the case of Oromo, common language (Afaan Oromo), common territory (Biyya Oromo, dangaa Oromiyaa or Oromia), common historical experiences (victimisation to Ethiopian Empire rules or Abyssinocracy) are particularly very significant. Stalin made his undertaking in 1913. His definition includes four criteria: the members of a nation live under the same economic conditions, on the same territory, speak the same language, and have similar culture and national character (Seton-Watson, 1982, p.14). Neither Ernest Gellner nor Eric Hobsbawn, two influencials, gave definite definitions of the nation in their major achievements. Indeed, they are very hostile towards what they define as nationalism. ‘…For ever single nationalism which has so far raised its ugly head…’ (Gellner, 1983, p.45), this is a Gellner’s conception and sees the world as naturally divided into nations, each with its own individuality. This implies an acceptance of the nationalist self-perception. There are also other conceptualisations. A social anthropologist, Thomas Hylland Eriksen (1992, p. 220) says ‘a nation is an ethnic group whose leaders have either achieved, or aspire to achieve, a state where its cultural group is hegemonic’, Anthony H. Birch (1989, p.6) considers that a nation is best defined as ‘a society which either governs itself today, or has done so in the past, or has a credible claim to do so in the not-too- distant future. Kellas (1998) defines the nation as a group of people who feel themselves to be a community bound together by ties of history, culture and common ancestry. Nations have ‘objective’ characteristics, which may include a territory, a language, a religion, or common descent, and ‘subjective’ characteristics, essentially a people’s awareness of its nationality and affection for it. In the last resort it is ‘the supreme loyalty’ for people who are prepared to die for their nation. The definition of ‘nation’ which we will make use of in the following is one suggested by Anthony D. Smith (1983,pp. 27-109, 1991, p. 14; 1995); a definition mastering well the ‘sounding board’ dimension. Smith here defines a nation as ‘a named human population sharing a historic territory, common myths and historical memories, a mass, public culture, a common economy and common legal rights and duties for all members. A recent definition of Smith holds nationalism, one manifestation of national-self-determination, as ‘an ideological movement for attaining and maintaining autonomy, unity and identity on behalf of a population deemed by some of its members to constitute an actual or potential ‘nation’ (Smith, 1991, p. 73; 1995). For Smith nationalism has a deep ethnic roots and rejuvenates itself in response to global and domestic impulses. While the phenomenon of globalisation and technocratic culture are there, nationalism is an eternal nature and nourishes and propels itself on technocratic innovations. In this context, national self-determination may be defined as many part aspirations of a nation: To be free to freely determine one’s own national identity, culture, including language, education, religion, and form of government, to be free of rule by another ‘nation’, that is to overcome social and political systems of domination and exclusion in which nations other than one’s own wield predominant power. To be free to select its own form of government; and those governed within it have the right of unflagging consent.

Culture and the Politics of Self-determination

Nation, nationalism and national self-determination are commanding attentions. One of the perennial issues within nationalism is whether national self-determination can stand alone, or whether it requires a ‘qualifier’ from within cultural or political ideas or both to clarify its precise cultural and political location. Several scholars have argued that national self-determination is a claim for cultural independence and that nationalism in general is based on the right to cultural independence and that nationalism is based on the right to a culture. Nielson, for example, peers a nation as groups of people whom ‘perceive themselves as having a distinct culture and traditions’, and Tamir presents that a nation is a community in which individuals develop their culture, and they therefore regard their place within a nation as membership in a cultural group. Indeed, she argues that ‘the right to national-self determination stakes a cultural rather than a political claim, namely, it is the right to preserve the existence of a nation as a distinct cultural entity.’ Will the people who demand national self-determination be satisfied with such an arrangement? Tamir gives credence to that the idea of basing the right to self-determination on the right to a culture is the one that has best conformity with a liberal internationalist viewpoint. That is thinkable, but international liberalism is incompetent on this particular matter. A nationalism, which is based on culture and cultural distinctions, was not very long a go. It is a concept that characteristic the thesis of right wing, or romantic theorists such as Herder. Indeed, Herder’s nationalism was not political, and it distrusted a state as something external, mechanical, not emerging spontaneously from the life of the people. Nevertheless, in the Oromo context the claim for national self-determination is a political rather than a cultural one. If we look at the distinction between the two, it would seem that the claim for national self-determination involves more than a demand to be tolerated while the cultural question is. For example, the Catalan’s and Quebecois’ culture and identity have been tolerated and respected to some extent, and yet many of them thought that this did not reflect a situation of self-determination. Indeed, meeting their claim would involve legislation and redefinition of institutions within the state, and perhaps even a new state. In the Oromo case the demand is actually the claim to have control over their lives. This does not mean over every individual’s private life, but over the public aspect of one’s existence, i.e. the system of mutual relationships, which reflect and sustain one’s membership of a certain collective. Here the self is conceptualised within the context of community, but one that has to be real, actual, and functioning and performing. Otherwise these communal ties are too abstract, which makes it impossible for the self to be defined by them. The statement of Cohen has to be recalled: ‘A person does not only need to develop and enjoy his powers. He needs to know who he is, and how his identity connects him with particular others. He must… find something outside himself which he did not create… He must be able to identify himself with some part of objective social reality’ (Cohen, 1988). Moreover, self-realisation, however, cannot be merely a mental situation; thus this community cannot be only cultural. It must be a political situation at least so that, in order for the Oromo people to realise themselves, they must not be dependent on the goodwill of a second party. They then must be certain that their self-realisation in all spheres of life will not be prevented by the Abyssinian government, the TPLF, the Orthodox Church, and so forth. They should therefore be politically active and watch such institutions carefully. In addition, they must participate in politics in order to decide collectively upon public matters, which influence their self-realisation. So the Oromos claim for national-self determination is about the realisation of their potential status, ability and collective character, which may be achieved only through participation in autonomous political institutions. But for more than a century Oromos have been denied access to these institutions, either officially or in practice. In other words, if Oromos as a nation achieve self-determination they will better able to participate, better represented, better able to deliberate, gain much more control over their life than formerly and more autonomous. The Oromos demand for national self-determination thus, aims at establishing those institutions, which are needed for the realisation of the self-determination. When an Oromo demands national self-determination, he/she is not asserting that he/she would like to control his/her private life, e.g. his/her job, his/her shopping activities, his/her love affairs. Many Oromos do not control these aspects of their lives and yet nevertheless demand national self-determination. But the same principle also applies to cultural life. The Oromos may be allowed more-or-less to use their language, have their own newspapers and theatre, and the freedom of worship, etc. which are making cultural freedom. Actually, these rights are hardly exist at present. But when they claim national self-determination they are not only referring to these aspects of life, as political community: they want to be able to form and choose among and vote for the Oromo political parties, to observe the Oromo constitutional laws, to pay taxes to an Oromo authority, and to have a history (and indeed, myth) of independent Oromo state, from which their identity and self-determination can derive. Thus, the Oromo’s Declaration for Independence will emphasise parliamentary participation and the need to form a constitution, rather than cultural activities. In general the Oromos demand for national self-determination entails that the individuals in this nation should be citizens, engaged in politics as members of a community committed to the realisation of certain (their own) common goods, rather than participating as individuals who seek their self-interests, as it is implied by the right- to- culture school of thought and Liberal Internationalists. Perhaps for this reason Margalit and Halbertal revise the right-to- culture argument, arguing that the right is to a certain culture rather than to culture. A certain culture, then, becomes a common good. And yet, this is not enough, because they still regard the common good in cultural rather than political terms: ‘shared values and symbols… are meant to serve as the focus for citizens’ identification with the state, as well as the sources of their willingness to defend it even at the risk of their lives (Margalit and Halbertal, 1994). Why, then, do theories adhere to the culture discourse? Of course, for most of the Western theorists, the term national self-determination is affiliated to the strive to become part of humanity, to regain the human condition of autonomy; it is adjoined to the struggle to be part of the free world, of the more progressive forces; it is seen as decolonisation, as civilisation, as an attempt made to become part of the world of liberty, rights, and justice. But, it is seen as part of centrifugal forces, from the centre to the global, universalism or what Lane (1974) calls as ‘total situation’ or citizenship based on individual freedom and social justice. These theorists, therefore, universalise the notion of national self-determination: they make it part of liberalism. The liberals’ universal approach tends to be uniformist. This makes a society rootless and a citizen far removed from those who control his/her destiny. On the other hand, the notion as it is put forward and used by the Oromos that the demand for national self-determination is also centripetal, from the global and the greater units to the smaller ones. These groups demand the disengagement from the ‘other’, the global, the colonist, even from other humanity, by asserting that ‘we are not merely the essential equal and part of humanity, but rather we are also different and distinct: we have our own political identity, which we want to preserve, sustain, and establish institutionally, like the Scottish vision in multi-nation state Europe. This is the language of liberation from colonisation. It is also the language of particularisation within the universal or the global, and it seems that the uniformist approach is not sensitive enough to the real Oromos problems. Thus, the Oromos quest for self-determination involves the ultimate goal of particularism (its own unique space), reinventing the Oromia State, owning the national homeland. Of course, in a heterogeneous society of the Ethiopian Empire, though uniformity may simplify system of control, social justice will not be attained in one vast monolithic block of oppressed by colonial legislation, bureaucrats and its armies. An important work of Professor Asafa Jalata, an authority in the study of Oromo nationalism kindly quoted as’ The Oromo question involves both colonialism and ethno nationalism. Ethiopian colonialism has been imposed by global capitalism on the Oromo nation. Ethiopians, both Amharas and Tigrayans, through establishing settler colonialism in Oromia, have systematically killed millions of Oromo and expropriated their lands and other resources from the last decades of the nineteenth century until today. Ethiopian colonialists already destroyed the people called Agaw by taking their lands, systematically killing them, and assimilating the survivors. They attempt to do the same thing to the Oromo by destroying the Oromo national movement, confiscating Oromo lands, and forcing the remaining Oromo into ‘settlement villages’ or (reservations). Many times, some Oromo organisations attempted to democratize Ethiopia so that the Oromo would achieve equal citizenship rights and maintain their ethno cultural identity. Determined to maintain their colonial domination and to destroy the Oromo cultural personality through ethnocide or assimilation, Ethiopian colonialists destroyed or suppressed those Oromo political forces that attempted to transform Ethiopia into a multinational democratic society. Therefore, most Oromos are convinced that their rights and freedom cannot be obtained and respected without creating their own state, or state that they can create as equal partners with other ethno national groups interested in forming a multinational democratic society to promote ethno cultural diversity and human freedom. Hence, Oromo nationalism is an ideology of the subjugated Oromo who seek human rights, freedom, justice, and democracy’ (Jalata, 1997). In fact social justice can be attained when and only when the oppressed majority able to rule its homeland. The Oromos work for national self-determination is the great humanist and historical task in terms of Freire (1993) argument ‘To liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both. Any ‘attempt to soften the power of the oppressor in difference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifest itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt never goes beyond this.’ In this context, for Oromos in order to have the continued opportunity to express their ‘generosity,’ the Habasha colonist must perpetuate injustice, too. Tyranny is the permanent fount of this ‘generosity,’ that sustains at the price of death, dehumanisation, despair and poverty. ‘True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity.’ (Freire, 1993). For further discussions on Oromo nationalism, universalism, globalism, Ethiopianist discourses and Oromo Nationalism, see Sorenson (1998) and Sisai Ibssa (1998).

Concluding Thoughts

Man as a social animal always seeks his own territory and belongings to a social group in which his identity and sense of community is observed and respected. In the defence of the cause for social justice and social ecology, these are basic tenets to backlash against the danger of the rhetoric of universalism, polyarchy and false perspectives of social uniformity, which appear to appreciate the social problems from a single privileged point. Georg Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind ( New York, 1967 edition), in his famous philosophical discussion of the relationship between ‘lordship and bondage’ maintained that a single consciousness could know itself only through another, even in a condition of totally unequal power relationship. According to this philosophical model, the lord (the oppressor) is lord only through the relationship with a bondservant (the oppressed, the one whose humanity is stolen). In the relationship, however, the other is annulled. The self of the mastery, the lord, derives from the conquest and negation of the servant, the bond. Only recognition of the selfhood of the other permits for its annulations. Thus, lordship covertly recognises the separate identity of the dominated. They are normally equal selves locked into unequal hierarchy. Metaphorically, Hegel’s dialectics of lordship and bondage is very important to understand the Ethiopian domination over Oromia. However, in the Ethiopianist discourse, the essential equality of the selves has been escaped totally. Rather, the persisting hierarchy has taken for granted. According to Sorenson (1998), Ethiopianist scholars like Clapham, Sven Rubenson and Levine because of their attachment to one version of the Ethiopian past and present make them either or unwilling to engage with the full complexity of the problem. From this point of view, to accept the unchanging polarity of Ethiopia and Oromia in the lordship-bondage relationship is to succumb to a structure of Ethiopian aggression and colonialism. The Oromians demand for national self-determination is, however, the civilised step out of the polarity upon which the coercive hierarchy relies, it is the collective political demand, as its main purpose is to achieve the good of the social whole, humanisation, the essential liberation of the Oromo national identity, dignity and the reinvention of Oromia as a sovereign state. The Abyssinian occupation of Oromia, the existence of the Abyssinian Rule, war-lordism and their armies in Oromia and the making of Finfinnee their garrison station, the centre of their crowds is not only an act of conquest, aggression and colonialism but also, from Oromo perspective, such elements are symbols of bondage and slavery that negate the Oromo selfhood as equal essential. For the last over hundred years, the Oromo nation has disowned selfhood, its own state or administration, and lived as a bondage of Abyssinia. The Abyssinian administration which has undermined the Oromo national traditions, exploited it economically, and maintained order through mechanical and repressive means- such a nation actually must seek national self-determination to foster within its politics, to bring dignity, justice, freedom and democracy and to survival as essential equal, as a nation and as part of humanity and its civilisation. It is necessary for Oromians to build the world of their own, a world which make them capable to sustain as a group of human people. They must able to liberate themselves and the violent, the oppressor too. In this context, the Oromo issue is a test case to the deceptive ‘democracy world-wide’ which is being advocated in the USA foreign policy and manipulated by the neo-nafxanyas (see Ibssa, 1998). It is a challenge to contemporary theories of democracy and polyarchy (Robinson, 1997) and actors of post cold war Ethiopian politics who simply take for granted that the boundaries and powers of political community in the ‘Horn’ have already been settled. Thanks to the dedicated works of human rights activists, particularly the OSG (the Oromia Support Group) and its UK based publication, Sagalee Haaraa, we have been well informed on plights of human population and their environment in the entire region. We are interested to recommend this publication to all actors of the region. In this context, we are confident to say that Ethiopian democracy rhetoric or federalism sham politics is nothing more than a fig leaf, covering up the continuation of an extraction of the ‘politics of the belly’, in terms of Bayart (1993) from ‘prudish eye of the West.’ Its democratic rhetoric is a new type of rent seeking (extracting economic rent). By making believe, it enables the collection of international aid that includes diplomatic, military and humanitarian. It enables the seizure of the resources of the modern economy for the benefit of the Tigrayan elites. The situation is not in democracy’s favour, rather it is a situation that the Tyranny is retaining control over the security forces, economic rents and the support of the West. Such manipulation is not new for Africa. Menilik, Haile sellassie, Mengistu, Mobutu, Biya, Senghor and Diouf did the same thing either in Ethiopia or elsewhere in the continent at one time or another. The Quote from Bayart’s (1993) African analyis comes to our mind ‘…The support of western powers and multilateral institutions of Bretton Woods and the Vatcan, who despite having waved the flag of democratic conditionality and respect for human rights, have not dared to pursue such sentiments to their logical conclusion and have continued to think in terms of ‘Mobutu or Chaos’ where Gorbachev given up saying ‘Ceaucescu or chaos’…’. Indeed, very recently, we have read the deceptive descriptions to neo-Mobutu, neo-Mengistu, etc.: democratic, new generation, confident and pragmatic, etc. Sadly, everything changes so that everything stays the same. Nevertheless, the oppressed Oromos are not passive objects, either. They have not allowed themselves to be ‘captured’, as in the past they have demonstrated their historical ability to resist dehumanisation, despair and poverty, and predictably will continue to resist until the justice will come to them. An everyday Oromo coins the following: ‘Victory to the Oromo people! Oromia shall be free!’ We feel moral and social responsibility to support the just cause of fellow humanity.


‘External self-determination, in particular, seems to carry dual meaning. On the one hand it is taken to mean full independent statehood, while on the other hand it is taken to mean external recognition by other states within the
international community.’


‘Every individual/group possesses a moral right to secede. The burden of proof rests with the opponents of secession.’ 

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